a tidy sum (idiom) – a large amount.
She sells sea shells on the seashore;
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure.
If she sells sea shells on the seashore,
Then the shells she sells are seashore shells.
You may have come across this tongue twisting rhyme in one of your English classes. If I told you this tongue twister was actually about a young Englishwoman who spent her life among dinosaurs, you would probably think I was barking mad. Well, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. I find it rather poignant that although she received so little recognition during her lifetime, we can remember this remarkable woman today through a tongue twister. We need to go back to the year 1812, to Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast in England, where a young girl aged about twelve, found a massive, fossilized creature, 5.18 metres long, embedded in a dangerous cliff. Her name was Mary Anning and her discovery set her off on a remarkable path, for she spent the rest of her life hunting for fossils and selling them to tourists visiting Lyme Regis. The creature she had found was the first complete Ichthyosaurus ever seen.
Mary sold the fossil to the nearby Lord of the Manor of Colway, Mr. Henry Henley, for £23 – a tidy sum in those days.
Mary came from a poor background and the only education she received was through the local church. However, she taught herself all she could in the field of palaeontology and many scientific experts sought her opinions. She was an expert on coprolite (fossil poo) and absolutely brilliant at spotting fossils.
As a woman, she was prevented from joining the Geological Society of London and her contribution to our understanding of what came before us was never acknowledged. She died in poverty. If you get the chance to visit the National History Museum in London, make sure you take in the hall of ancient marine reptiles. Here you can get an indication of what Mary achieved using basic tools. The volume and beauty of her work are breath taking.
To view the complete article, subscribe to Just English magazine.